Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A slip of the tongue – No Irish need apply on Aer Lingus Belfast route.

On December 13th Aer Lingus decided that their standard greeting of: “Go Mbeannai Dia Daoibh, ta failte romhaibhar bord na heitilte seo,” would not be used on Belfast routes “to avoid causing offence”. Belfast becomes the only city on the globe where the greeting is not deployed. This seemingly minor shift, this exception, along with the earlier disputes about the new Belfast route, tells us a lot about the current role of the Irish bourgeois.

It is when one asks why this decision was taken that one begins to gain an insight into the strange world of post St Andrews, post-settlement Ireland. What we are observing is what the CIA call “blowback” – the strange and unintended consequences of an initial decision. In this case the blowback is the astounding (only in the sense of its speed) growth of 26 county nationalism. The Irish bourgeoisie believe that the national question has been settled by the excision of the 6 north-eastern counties and are unable to disguise their relief and luxuriate in their ability to express freely their real faith in a shrunken and parochial dependency they now call Ireland. They are only matched in that belief by their social partners in the Trade Union bureaucracy who long ago went from being an obstacle to the unity of Irish workers to being facilitators of that division. Their idea of opposing Aer Lingus was to firstly support the privatisation that gave them free rein and then to oppose the new conditions in Belfast by supporting Ryanair!

It is hardly surprising that Aer Lingus, for so long the flagship of Irish attempts to construct an independent capitalist economy and now the flagship of capitulation to globalisation, deregulation and privatisation, should be to the fore in this new definition of nationalism, first declaring Belfast to be a foreign city, then forcing lower conditions of service on staff based in the North and, on the day of the ‘No Irish’ announcement, hailing the Belfast routes as the first step to establish the company as a major player on the international market!

The darker dimension to this new nationalism becomes evident when one asks why an Irish greeting would be offensive. No-one would be offended by a French phrase on Air France or a German phrase on Lufthansa. The offence in this case would be to loyalism because, from the loyalist viewpoint, the present settlement is not based on any form of equality, but on the assertion of loyalist supremacy and the denial that expressions of Irish culture have any legitimacy within the Northern colony. What the representatives of the Irish bourgeoisie are saying with this decision is that they have no problem with the anti-Irish bigots. The bigots don’t even have to complain. The Irish bourgeois have bought the whole heap – not just partition or the British occupation, but the demands of bigotry and discrimination within the statelet.

This is bad news for Sinn Fein. Not only is there no Irish Language Act to protect language rights in the North – something they had already accepted in the St. Andrews deal. Now there is unlikely to even be the compensation that they expected to gain in the form of a language commissioner. In the longer run it is very bad news for the nationalist working class, when the bigots realise the limited constraints there are on their bigotry they will go to town in an attempt to turn back the clock to the days of fullblown Orange supremacy.

But of course the Sinn Fein leadership knew all this long ago. 10 years ago, at the start of the current process, they led a language movement in Queens University and Irish signs were erected in the Students union. The signs were removed following unionist protest and a deal negotiated where bigger grants were given to the language movement. When we realise that the signs were bi-lingual we can see the depths of unionist bigotry and the early signs that equality was not on the agenda – only a hand-out in compensation.

Even the handouts are drying up now.


Hoopy said...

I’m not sure about this being an example of ‘blowback’ – a strange and unintended result of an initial decision – since the decision of Aer Lingus isn’t really that important and the 26 county state long ago took much more drastic action, including executing republicans, to defend partition.

In fact it’s the very inconsequential character of the move that is most striking. After all, if passengers are prepared to put up with Ryanair levels of customer care even loyalists would endure a couple of phrases of Irish. Besides the gross symbolism of it the real importance is that it shows how stupid the idea is that greater cross-border cooperation naturally leads to greater political union.

It also shows how for certain companies the border is a positive benefit to ‘all-Ireland’ expansion and how it has most obviously divided Irish workers. It shows how bad things have got when all political parties in the North celebrated the Aer Lingus move when it has been justified on the basis that wages and conditions in the North are lower. Fifty years ago unionists would have been shocked, angry and upset if Ulstermen and women were the cheap labour alternative for Eire.

This is not just bad news for nationalist workers. Protestant workers will face the same reduced conditions and will become prey to the petty and insulting sectarian ‘privileges’ of such restriction on the Irish language. The undermining of workers terms and conditions in Aer Lingus will inevitably be used against the company’s workers in the South on the grounds of ‘international’ competition.

Behind sectarianism lies the usual attack on the working class. Passengers should be as welcomed in Irish in Belfast as in JFK and the workers in Belfast should have the same terms and conditions as the ones in Dublin.

Daithí said...


Diarmuid Ó Mainnín, Uas.,
Príomhoifigeach Feidhmiúcháin,
Ceannoifig Aer Lingus,
Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath,
Baile Átha Cliath,



daragh said...

This decision to ban Irish is ridiculous. I've set up a Facebook group on the issue, come join us and help have the decision reversed.